Buying Green IT: The Green IT Criteria You Need to Consider

If your company is pushing a green IT infrastructure strategy, you have a new set of green IT criteria to consider when purchasing IT hardware. Your company has likely set requirements for things like energy use and recyclability such as requiring that all new desktop systems meet Energy Star requirements or that the manufacturer must provide a recycling program. But you may also wish to consider the vendors' own sustainability position. Do they practice what they preach and sell?

If your company has decided to focus on sustainability, you're almost certainly including green criteria in your buying decisions for IT hardware. Odds are you've set requirements for things such as energy use and recyclability-specifying that all new desktop systems meet Energy Star requirements, for example, or that the manufacturer provide a recycling program. That's a big step forward, but it's important to understand that it's just a start.

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One of the less obvious, but potentially more important, green strategies is to add a requirement that the manufacturers you buy from are also taking sustainability issues seriously. After all, if everyone buys only from manufacturers that are making a serious effort to go green, it will only encourage other manufacturers to do the same. Here are some of the things you might want to ask the companies you buy from. Not so incidentally, if your company is serious about committing to sustainability, it might want to consider adopting some of these ideas itself.

1. Does the Company Have an Official Sustainability Policy?

As the old saw goes, actions speak louder than words. That said, however, having an official corporate sustainability policy indicates an awareness of green issues and a stated intention to take them into account.

Canon, for example, has had a written Canon Group Environmental Charter since 1993, most recently updated in 2006. Among other points, it includes an intent to buy products that have a lower environmental burden and also encourages the collection and recycling of Canon's own products at the end of their lifetimes. Ask the companies you deal with if they have their own formal policies. If they do, ask whether they're posted on the Web, so you can see them.

2. Who's in Charge of Sustainability Issues?

Having a corporate concern for sustainability is all well and good, but knowing who's in charge can tell you a lot about how much the company really cares about turning that concern into action. For example, InfoPrint (the joint venture between IBM and Ricoh) has a chief sustainability officer. As the company points out, putting a high-level official in charge of green issues helps ensure that both the individual and the issues have the clout internally to make a difference.

3. Does the Company Make an Effort to Educate?

Arguably nothing tells you how seriously a company takes green issues as its commitment to educating both its employees and potential customers on the subject. Teaching employees the importance of sustainability will tend to make them sensitive to green issues on the job. And once you've taught customers that sustainability matters, it will be hard to persuade them to buy products that don't take it into account.

Canon, for example, includes increasing the environmental awareness of its employees in its charter, as well as "encouraging environmental protection initiatives on an individual level." Outside of the company, Canon has donated textbooks on green issues to Japanese schools and has participated in seminars and forums on the subject. In the United States and Canada, it has sponsored an environmental competition, the Canon Envirothon, for high school students since 1997. Ask the companies you deal with what they do to educate employees and consumers about green issues.